Vann R. Newkirk
A better film would have muddled the clean white-savior narrative with an actual exploration of what the racial politics of a mixed-race insurgency in the South might have been like.
It certainly looks and sounds right, and probably smells right too -- these gunky Mississippi battles and unwashed soldiers feel authentic. The problem, as with McConaughey's performance, is that you always do feel it.
The director and screenwriter Gary Ross illuminates immense historical spans with the true story of one man's revolt during the Civil War.
Ross bit off more than he can chew... the story lolls and wallows in wartime violence and the rebellion, then rushes through the horrors and trauma of Reconstruction.
A Civil War rebellion becomes an enervating movie by Gary Ross.
As inherently astonishing and powerful as this little-known episode is, it has not been well-served by Ross' lumpy, ill-conceived script, which ends up wasting Matthew McConaughey's terrific lead performance and other strong acting contributions.
It's a powerful story but, as written and directed by Gary Ross, it has a by-the-books straightforwardness that sacrifices nuance for homiletics.
Instead of captivating us with swagger, McConaughey chooses to go grim and dogged. Director Ross does the same.
Call it a civil bore.